When Hate Crime Equals Thought Crime

Today the Washington Post tells us that James A. Fields, Jr., the neo-Nazi who plowed a car into a group of counterprotesters at the infamous white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, is scheduled to appear in federal court for a hearing on “hate-crime” charges. Interestingly, the article neglects to tell us specifically which “hate crimes” were involved.

Fields has been found guilty already of first-degree murder in the death of Heather Heyer, one of the people struck by Fields’ car. He has been sentenced to life in prison for the murder charge, 70 years for each of five counts of aggravated malicious wounding, 20 years for each of three counts of malicious wounding, and nine years for leaving the scene of a fatal crash.

The man deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison. He should be darn grateful he didn’t get the death penalty. Personally, I think he should get the electric chair (or whatever we use for capital punishment in Virginia these days). But I’m at a loss about the hate crime charges.

Heyer was white. If Fields rammed his car into a multi-racial mix of demonstrators, injuring several and killing one, was the act a “hate crime” perpetrated against counter-protesters based on their race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation, or was it a generalized crime motivated by ideological malice against the counter-demonstrators? Is Fields, in effect, being charged with the thought crime of hewing to neo-Nazi beliefs while committing a crime?

The neo-Nazi ideology is loathsome. One could argue that of all the odious ideologies in circulation in the U.S., it is the most loathsome and indefensible of all. But is it now a crime in Virginia to embrace a reviled ideology?

Update: The Daily Progress account provides a big more detail about the hate-crime charges:

Fields is charged with one count of a hate crime resulting in Heyer’s death; 28 counts of hate crime acts attempting to kill or cause injury; and one count of “racially-motivated violent interference with a federally protected activity resulting in the death” of Heyer “for driving his car into a crowd of protesters.”

Huh? That makes no sense to me whatsoever, but according to the Daily Progress, Fields’ attorneys have signaled that he might plead guilty to the charges. So, what do I know?

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3 responses to “When Hate Crime Equals Thought Crime

  1. I have always been uncomfortable with the concept of a “hate-crime”. It verges on criminalizing thought. Why should one murder or assault be subject to a more severe penalty than another such crime because the victim of the former was in the “hate-crime” category? Murders or assaults should be treated and punished the same regardless of the victim. Unfortunately, the “hate-crime” avenue has often been the way that federal authorities can prosecute offenders who, for various reasons, state authorities would not prosecute. Finally, I am puzzled by the levying of these charges against Fields. He has already been sentenced to life in Virginia prisons. It seems a waste of the time of the court and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

    By the way, Virginia uses either lethal injection or the electric chair for executions. Lethal injection is the default option unless the offender chooses the chair.

  2. All the original concerns about modern Hate Crime Prevention Laws have come to pass. This includes the suggestion that hate crime laws do not prevent such crime, but instead to encourage them, and hate crime hoaxes. Each time hate laws are expanded to cover new crimes, those new types of crime soar, as do the hoaxes claimed as hate crimes. The latest example being signed into law by Obama on October 28, 2009, as a rider to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2010 (H.R. 2647), that expands the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

    I now suspect that far too often hate crime charges are motivated by the same reasons that motivate hate crime hoaxes. One explanation offered for hoaxes appeared in Feb 22, 2019 Guillette article by Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning:

    “It is in a victimhood culture that hate crime hoaxes are most attractive. Hate crime hoaxes are false tales of oppression, and those who understand human interaction in these terms are quick to believe such tales and offer support to those they see as the victims. And to the extent that the hoaxer already belongs to a group seen as a victim group—ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, etc.—adherents of the new culture tend to see them as especially credible. They might even promote the idea that it’s our moral duty to believe victims. In that context waiting for evidence or giving due process to the accused is itself a form of injustice, a way of further victimizing the oppressed and aiding their oppressors. In a victimhood culture, even when hate crime hoaxes are exposed, they are excused as an attempt to raise awareness of a real problem or as the understandable reaction of someone suffering from so much unrecognized oppression.

    Victimhood culture gives rise to hate crime hoaxes, then, because it makes them easier to pull off for the same reasons it makes them more lucrative …”

    Quote is from: https://quillette.com/2019/02/22/hate-crime-hoaxes-are-more-common-than-you-think/

    This is yet another example of highly counter productive progressive ideology that causes what it proposes to remedy, making matters far worse for everyone, including real victims. Hence, for example, the total debacle of false hate claims.

  3. I don’t pretend to really understand the designation and agree it seems to add “more” to the rationale for the killing of others. But I do see the difference between – say – premeditated murder of a specific person you intended to murder and killings others because they are a different race, or religion or sexual identity, etc and what the law is doing is specifically highlighting the nature of the act and condemning it over and above “regular” murder.

    I’m not sure it came just from “liberals” as it would take a bipartisan group of legislators to make it a law.

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